SNOWBEAST (1977) begins in the tranquil snow covered mountains of Colorado. Jennifer (Kathy Christopher) and Heidi (Anne McEnroe) are out skiing when they come across strange looking tracks in the snow. Seconds after discovery, Jennifer is killed by an enormous humanoid creature. Fearing for her life, Heidi skis off to find safety with the ski patrol at Rill Lodge. Next, we’re introduced to Tony Rill (Robert Logan) and the elderly Mrs. Carrie Rill (Sylvia Sidney) who are preparing for the Rill Lodge 50th Anniversary Winter Carnival. It’s here we learn that the ski resort is family owned and Tony is in line to inherit the lodge after his aging grandmother, Carrie, retires.
Next we meet Gar and Ellen Seberg. They’ve traveled a long way to see Tony as the three are old friends. Both Gar (Bo Svenson) and Ellen (Yvette Mimieux) don’t appear to be happy, partly because Gar has a chip on his shoulder. Once meeting up with Tony, Gar and Ellen settle in. Tony offers Gar employment as a ski instructor, then races off to meet with Sheriff Paraday (Clint Walker) at the Fairchild Farm. It seems that the young Fairchild boy discovered a mutilated body in the family’s barn. Once Tony arrives, he and the sheriff identify the body as the missing girl, Jennifer. Alarmed by what they’ve found, Tony convinces his Grandmother to close part of the ski resort in order to keep their visitors safe.
Back at Rill Lodge, Tony meets Ellen for lunch and discovers that she and Gar are struggling in their relationship. The root cause of the unhappiness stems from Gar not knowing what to do with himself after winning an Olympic Gold Medal back in the ’68 games. Gar’s career had not gone as planned, creating unwanted stress between the married couple. With a rampaging monster in the wilds, ski lodge clients being slaughtered, and the ski resort business quickly going downhill, Tony, Gar, Ellen and Sheriff Paraday set out to hunt down the monstrous Snowbeast.
SNOWBEAST is a made-for-TV movie that clearly leveraged the success of JAWS (1975). In fact, there are numerous similarities throughout the film. Both JAWS and SNOWBEAST open with a tourist girl dying, showing the viewer a bloodied arm as evidence. Both JAWS and SNOWBEAST have authority figures unwilling to close down the resort (beach). Both movies show hunters (fisherman) killing a predator, thinking they’ve dealt with the problem while the lead protagonists know better. These are just a few of the similarities and there are plenty more throughout the film.
Being similar to JAWS doesn’t make SNOWBEAST a bad film. In fact, I was quite surprised at just how good it was. In all honesty, I was expecting it to be a pale imitation of its inspiration, therefore my expectations were very low. The script is rather well written, the performances above average and the story, albeit nearly identical to JAWS, is well-paced. The direction and editing of the film is on par with the writing. What makes the script work so well is the science that writer Joseph Stefano (more on this guy later) included in the plot. Had he not taken the time to research the Bigfoot phenomena and include those details in the script, SNOWBEAST would have just turned out to be another Man vs Monster film.
SNOWBEAST was directed by Herb Wallerstein, written by Joseph Stefano and filmed by Frank Stanely. Wallerstein’s background comes from a strong television background, directing shows such as I Dream of Jeannie, Star Trek (the original series), The Brady Bunch, Gunsmoke and Happy Days, just to name a few. Cinematographer Frank Stanley lensed films like MAGNUM FORCE (1973) starring Clint Eastwood, WILLIE DYNAMITE (1974), THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT (1974) also starring Clint Eastwood, and CAR WASH (1976). The real surprise in SNOWBEAST’s production is writer Joseph Stefano. Stefano wrote a little screenplay known as PSYCHO (1960) and continued to write engaging, clever stories for TV and film throughout his career.
Thanks to the great writing of Joseph Stefano and cinematography of Frank Stanely, SNOWBEAST turned out to be better than expected. It’s not a great film, but it’s one I’d recommend watching while doing things around the house.